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Still Life in Lodz
- David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas)
Still Life in Lodz, a haunting and hopeful documentary in equal measure, follows the journey of three Polish jews, ex-pats whose families immigrated to the USA and Israel, coming back to the Polish city of Lodz in order to reconnect with the ghosts of the past. Lodz once supported the biggest Jewish population in Poland, until Hitler Germany's invasion of the country in 1939 tore it apart and burned it into ashes for good measure.
Paul Celler, an American who describes in vivid detail the stories of his ancestors' death at the hands of the Holocaust is solemn when he reveals how the non-Jewish neighbors who were friends with his family cheered when they were publicly humiliated by the Nazis. On the other hand, Lilka Elbaum, another American in search of her roots, this time through her personal connection with a still life painting that used to hang in her home, visits Polish gentiles who sheltered her family at great danger to themselves when the Nazis came collecting for Auschwitz. As Mister Rogers said, "Look for the helpers".
There are horror and hope that intersects across the doc, as its subjects try to find meaning and a personal connection to their past as a way to move forward to the future. Director Slamowir Grunberg patiently settles on shots where the three individuals touch tactile remnants of families long gone, may it be a gravestone or the walls of the place they once called home. The doc mainly settles on fly-on-the-wall realism as the three people at the center of the project walk around Lodz, figuring out where their families used to live, work, go shopping and get dental exams.
This is balanced by somber historical footage and grayscale animated segments that visualize the stories Lilka tells about her childhood and especially her memories about the still life painting she's now on a mission to find. The latter method infuses the doc with the innocent insight of childhood, which brilliantly counters the harrowing images of the Holocaust. Packed full of empathy and compassion for its subjects, Still Life in Lodz delivers an intensely personal look at one of the darkest chapters of the 20th Century.
Still Life in Lodz opens on March 12, For a list of theaters playing the film (virtually) go to https://stilllifeinlodz.com/screenings
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com